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Commentary: WC's best team in years

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WCHS coach Dave DeWeese talks to his team during a timeout in the CAL title game The Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team won South Jersey titles in 2006 and 2007.

This year’s version of the Crusaders fell short of that goal. But you can make an argument they were a better team, maybe the school’s best boys basketball team in more than 25 years.

This isn’t to pick a fight with the players and fans of those Anthony Raffa-led clubs.

But let’s lay out some facts just for argument’s sake anyway.

The 2007 team of Raffa’s senior year didn’t have to look at a South Jersey Non-Public B bracket filled with the likes of the Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, Gill St. Bernard’s and even Holy Spirit. And the Trenton Catholic program that this year’s group lost to in the second round to end its amazing season was much more talented than the one seven seasons ago. The 2007 Crusader team also didn’t have to beat three ridiculously good teams to win a Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, since the CAL didn’t hold an eight-team playoff back then.

Moreover, the 2007 Wildwood Catholic team lost six games to CAL competition and nine overall while playing a non-league schedule that was nowhere near as difficult as the one this year’s team faced.

This year’s Crusader group lost just once to a CAL team, all the way back in its first game of the season when it fell by three points to Atlantic City with standout forward Eddie McWade hobbled by an ankle sprain.

Wildwood Catholic went on to make that same Viking club look like a junior varsity team in the CAL championship, winning by 28 points, the largest margin of victory in CAL title game history.

In McWade and Jordan Robertson, Wildwood Catholic had star power. Both finished their careers as 1,000-point scorers. Both will play in college, although exactly where hasn’t been determined just yet. The 6-4 McWade was gaining hard interest from Division II Chestnut Hill and a plethora of Division III schools all season. After the way he challenged Syracuse-recruit Malachi Richardson in the post with his grit and craftiness in the loss to Trenton Catholic, that interest is certainly warranted. In fact, you could argue that he’s a bit undervalued, especially since his academics are off the charts.

Robertson was South Jersey boys basketball’s major breakout star this season, averaging 18 points per game and having some of his biggest outings on the biggest stages. The 6-4 wing forward is up for Player of the Year discussion among some of the major media outlets that cover high school sports in the region. He also shot up the college prospect list, with Temple and Colgate among his most ardent suitors at this point. The talent, and grades, are certainly there.

The role players were excellent. Clinton Freeman might have been a standout on many other teams but the 6-5 beast of a young man played third fiddle for the Crusaders, capable of producing a double-double on any given night.

George Cook was the CAL United Conference’s best pure point guard. Steady, tough and secure with the ball, constantly delivering it to the right people in the right spots at the right times. And defensively? Well, all Cook did was make sure the opposing team’s point guard didn’t get into the top of the lane and couldn’t go to the places he wanted in almost every game.

Kevin McWade, the lone underclassmen in the starting lineup, played a background role. But you can bet that if there was a loose ball, he was in on it, many times even causing it. Like Cook, his defense was tremendous. And he was an underrated rebounder for his size and position.

They weren’t that deep outside the top five, but Will Bell, Garrett Moretti and Malcolm Darby did have their moments. Moretti made a huge three-point shot in the win over Holy Spirit in the CAL semifinals. Bell and Darby did dirty work on the boards and in the paint.

The overall accomplishments are remarkable. A 23-5 record, the program’s third United Conference crown in as many seasons, its first CAL overall title since 1969, wins against eventual sectional finalists such as Schalick and Cherokee and rankings among the top five teams in South Jersey on its resume.

And for sure, the best team in the Cape-Atlantic League, an accomplishment that might rank up there with a South Jersey title considering how tough this 20-some team league is on a year in and year out basis.

This was not the most talented team out there. There’s only one mid-major to low Division I player there and no more than probably three college players at some level total, so there have been a few South Jersey teams with more talent in recent years.

But no team played with more toughness, determination and fire. Simply put, they played like an underdog even though they weren’t.

Perhaps that’s why the head coach, Dave DeWeese, made this comment after he exited a teary-eyed locker room following the eight-point loss to Trenton Catholic, a team ranked 10th in the state that the Crusaders led by five points early in the fourth quarter: “I just love these kids. I don’t want to let them go. It’s going to be hard to let them go.”

In some ways, this group won’t be let go. They’ll be talked about for many, many years to come. And rightly so.

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